Friday, November 25, 2011


Is there any training programme where Army officers dealing with media are trained to commit faux-pas and put their foot in the mouth? Why can't a simple issue be handled easily without getting into tangles and then further pushing themselves into a morass while trying to extricate from half-truths and cover-ups; which were not needed in the first place?

No better example of the same than the needless controversy which has arisen out of a media briefing held by GOC 1 Armd Div at Patiala. The briefing was to explain the importance and significance of the presentation of Standards to five armoured regiments of the Army at a solemn ceremony at Patiala by the President and the Supreme Commander, Pratibha Patil.

All was well until the Army circulated a press release at the venue which mentioned the operational commitments undertaken by each of the regiments ever since they were raised. In the case of 6 Lancers (which was raised as 6 Armd Regt), participation in Op Blue Star was mentioned as one such commitment.

A factual statement, no doubt, as there were several dozen units which took part in that operation, some at the forefront, and, others at the fringes doing internal security duties. But insensitive to mention in a state where Op Blue Star of 1984 is associated by many hardliners as not with militants occupying the holiest of holy shrine of the Sikhs, thus desecrating it, but with an invasion of the shrine and occupation by military boots, violating it's sanctity.

Not surprisingly, journalists not familiar with defence beat and ways of the Army, who were attending the briefing, pounced upon the word Blue Star and cornered the GOC 1 Armd Div over the participation of 6 Lancers. To them it meant that 6 Lancers has stormed the Golden Temple and was at its forefront. The GOC, apparently, going by news reports, denied that the unit had participated in Op Blue Star, thus contradicting the press release given out in this regard.
And this came out in next mornings news reports. Quite apparent that the GOC reacted in a knee-jerk fashion, not expecting this reaction and not knowing what had been put in the press release. But the damage had been done.

Now, the damage control party in HQs Western Command came into action. And, accordingly, the PRO Defence issued a clarification dismissing the news reports and clarifying the issue. In the clarification lay the admission that the unit was indeed part of the larger sphere of Op Blue Star, hence the misunderstanding.

But there was an inherent contradiction in the statement, incorrectly drafted, which denied and yet admitted in the same breath. No wonder it was hastily withdrawn when someone pointed out the mistake. Thus giving more gist to the incorrect reports which were to be countered and further fueling the controversy.

There are several things which the Army should have done and not done, but then it would take too much time and space to write all about that. The aim is not to pinpoint individuals who faltered. The point is that media management in the Army, or for that matter in Navy and IAF, is still being done at an ad-hoc level whereas this is a specialised field. It is sad to see the Army floundering in such simple issues which could have been handled with tact and finesse.

Here is the full text of the clarification which was withdrawn unceremoniously:



Chandigarh: 25 Nov 2011

Reference the news item published in the 25 Nov edition of Hindustan Times, Daily Post ,Punjab Kesri (Hindi language Patiala edition)and certain vernacular press regarding the participation of 6 Lancers (earlier known as 6 Armoured Regiment) in operation Bluestar. It is clarified that the news items are presumptive and factually incorrect. As previously stated by GOC 1 Armoured division in his interaction with the media on 24 Nov, 6 Lancers was never actively committed in the clearance operations undertaken under operation Bluestar, as inferred in the media reports. The regiment was raised in Feb 1984 and in Jun 1984, was deployed in Sunam, District Sangrur of the state of Punjab for protective internal security tasks under the aid to civil authorities. As per normal army operational procedures all troops committed in aid of civil authorities in the state of Punjab were deemed to be operating under operation Bluestar thus leading to this mis-interpretation.